Electronic Weapons: December 13, 2002

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The next generation of electronic warfare equipment will be built around active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars. In simple terms, instead of one radar dish to send out signals, and receive the "returns" (signals that bounced off something out there), AESA consists of an array of hundreds, or thousands, of little radar dishes. This concept has been around for decades, but it requires a lot of cheap computer power, and cheaper miniature radar dishes, to make AESA practical. The new AESA radars being installed in F-15s and F18s cost over two million dollars each. AESA is much more capable than older radars. The multiple radar elements (mini-dishes) can simultaneously do different jobs, making it easier for an aircraft to handle tracking multiple aircraft, controlling missiles and performing electronic warfare tasks. For example, AESA is able to jam frequency hopping radios, which defeat jamming and being overheard by sending messages over a quickly changing, pre-arranged, set of different frequencies. AESA, by assigning each element a different frequency, you can shut down all, or enough, of the frequencies being used by the radio to jam it. Using the same technique, AESA can also capture what is actually being transmitted by a frequency hopping radio. These electronic warfare capabilities make AESA more than a radar, of course, and that's why pilots want it. The only problem is that the air force cannot afford to equip all aircraft with AESA. But as the price of the radar elements continues to come down, AESA will become more common. Future electronics warfare aircraft are expected to use AESA, no matter what the cost. 

 


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